What to see in French Polynesia

Raiatea – the Birthplace of Polynesia

After Moorea, our next stop was Raiatea. Although it is the second largest island (of the Society Islands) and home to the “second largest city” in French Polynesia, the island is blissfully undeveloped. Waking up early and walking out onto the deck as we sailed along the coast of the island and into the port of Uturoa was the way I’d love to start every day! (More information below about Raiatea’s significance to the history and exploration of Polynesia).

My wife Robyn taking in the beautiful coastline of Raitea as we arrive for another day in paradise.
Coming in to Uturoa, on Raiatea.
Our cruise ship, Windstar (on the left), docked in Uturoa.

Geographically, Raiatea shares the same lagoon with Taha’a (our next stop) and both islands are close to Bora Bora.

Raiatea was one stop where we decide to “wing it” from a tour standpoint. We got off the ship, found a small tour desk and eventually we were able to secure a guide who gave us a fabulous tour of the island.

Our tour guide explains the growing of breadfruit and other crops on Raiatea.
Breadfruit, not my favorite fruit!
Raiatea has the only navigable river in French Polynesia – one of the cruise ship tours takes kayaks on the river for a few kilometers.

Raiatea has significant cultural and spiritual importance to the native population because it is the geographical center of eastern Polynesisa (a triangle can be formed between New Zealand, Raiatea and Hawaii), and it is considered the ancestral homeland of the Maori people, most closely associated with New Zealand. A traditional name for the island is Havai’i, which sounds very similar to Hawai’i, which also has a close link anciently to Raiatea. It is believed that ancient Polynesians set out to explore the Pacific from this island. Learn more here.


We visited the sacred temple site of Taputapuatea, where our guide gave a great history and navigation lesson in the sand (taking a stick and drawing out symbols, maps, and terms in the packed sand). This sacred spot was the launch site for exploration and a worship center for Polynesians across the Pacific.

Some of our guide’s drawings in the sand – fascinating information on how the ancient Polynesians navigated on the ocean.
Our tour guide explaining the history at the thousand year-old Taputapuatea Marae.

We also visited the home of a friend of our guide (I’m sure everyone on the island knows each other). This gentleman was from San Francisco originally and has lived on Raiatea for many years, in a very simple fashion. His home was essentially a small wood framed structure with metal siding and swing out “windows”. He lives largely off the land with what he can produce. He offered us some lovely fruit dishes and we enjoyed visiting with him. Not a bad way to retire!

The gentleman whose home we visited is on the left, partially hidden by my mother-in-law.

Before heading back to our cruise ship, our guide took us to a pretty spot with a nice view of the southern part of the island, where he shared a little more about this wonderful slice of paradise.

View of the coral reef protecting the south shore of Raiatea.
Another view of the southern part of Raiatea.
One more view of Uturoa, Raiatea, as we depart in the evening.

Our next stop was just a few kilometers across the strait which separates Raiatea from Taha’a. Our next day was going to be all about playing in and enjoying the water – stay tuned!